A weekend series win at home was just the boost the Kenai River Brown Bears were looking for Saturday night and they got it with a 4-1 win over the Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
The Bears clinched the opening homestand of the year with one game to go. Kenai River will go for the three-game sweep Sunday at 5 p.m.
The win pushed the Bears (6-2-1-1) into second place in the North American Hockey League Midwest Division with 14 points, one ahead of Fairbanks (6-3-0-1) and two behind Chippewa (8-2-0-0). Janesville slipped to 3-7-0-0, fifth in the NAHL Midwest.
“It’s good to win the first two here, but obviously we’d like to get all three here this weekend,” said Bears head coach Kevin Murdock.
Coming off two straight road losses to the Chippewa Steel last weekend where Kenai River was outscored 13-2, the Bears were able to clamp down on defense with three goals allowed in the last two games. The Bears got a second straight stellar night out of Landon Pavlisin, who held the Jets at bay throughout the evening. Pavlisin said the Bears offense getting off to a fast start with two opening-period goals helped ease the pressure on him.
“Seeing them in it to win it helps keep me going,” Pavlisin said. “They helped me out, putting in rebounds and stuff. I know they have my backs.”
Anchorage product Max Helgeson and Soldotna’s Preston Weeks both lit the lamp in the first period for Kenai River. That spark combined with Pavlisin in net makes a good combination, Murdock said.
“(Pavlisin) has a calming influence back there,” he said. “It’s something they know, he’s there to bail us out.”
The Bears didn’t waste time taking a lead as Helgeson poked the puck in on a rush 2:38 into the game.
The Bears worked the power play well too, getting a goal from Weeks on a back-door shovel from Porter Schachle late in the first period to put Kenai River up 2-0. After one period, the Bears held a 10-4 shots on goal advantage.
The offense kept coming in the second period with goals from Brandon Lajoie and Schachle in the first five minutes of the period, giving the Bears a 4-0 advantage.
“All four of our lines are playing well,” Murdock said.
Janesville kept the Bears honest with a power play goal from Jan Lasak midway through the second period, knocking in a loose puck in the crease to put the Jets on the board. Pavlisin stopped the first shot but Lasak was there to throw the rebound off Pavlisin’s leg and into the net.
Perhaps the biggest swing of the night came after a brawl involving all 10 players on the ice with just seconds left in the second period put the Bears on a five-minute penalty kill. With the majority of that coming at the start of the final period, the Jets were facing a golden opportunity.
However, the Bears killed it off with no serious scoring threat by Janesville, keeping a three-goal lead that lasted the final 15 minutes.
Brown Bears 4, Jets 1
Janesville 0 1 0 —1
Kenai River 2 2 0 —4
1st period — 1. Kenai River, Helgeson (Poellinger), 2:38; 2. Kenai River, Weeks (Schachle), PP, 17:02.
2nd period — 3. Kenai River, Lajoie (Moline), 2:32; 4. Kenai River, Schachle (Boucher, Thelen), 4:27; 5. Janesville, Lasak (Novak, Dunlap), PP, 9:11.
3rd period — no scoring.